Every morning in my classroom we watch a ten-minute news segment. On Friday, when President Trump announced his plan to declare a “National Emergency” to fund the Border Wall, a few of my students sat up a little straighter, eyes locked on the screen.
Over half of my class is Hispanic.
What was going on in their heads, I don’t know, but I can tell you what I saw on their faces:
A kaleidoscope of emotion on full display this past Friday morning.
And then the segment was over, and we moved on to transitive and intransitive verbs, our lesson for the day. But that image, the look on my students’ faces, stayed with me. Why had they cringed? Why were their eyes darting around the room to their classmates?
Because they were under attack. Regardless of whether or not they were born in Mexico — have ever lived, or even stepped foot on Mexican soil — they knew the President of the United States was talking about them. About people that looked like them. Their family. Their friends.
I chose to tackle the wall with this column because we need to be careful how we talk moving forward. Despite how you feel about border security, whether or not you think we’re truly facing a “National Emergency,” whether or not you think it’s okay for a president to pull funds from the Pentagon — regardless of any of that, be careful with your words.
Especially when kids are around.
And I don’t just mean Hispanic kids. I mean your kids. Even your nieces and nephews. They are listening. Being a schoolteacher and a parent, I know this for a fact. What you say around our youth will take hold in their hearts. It will grow. And as time goes on, as we enter this new world where there’s a wall on our southern border, we will have to fight against division like never before.
See, this wall will be a contentious sign for some of our fellow Americans. A sign that says “your” people are different from “my” people, regardless of citizenship.
Yes, you can argue that the wall will be built to protect us from the likes of El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel. But do not forget that if one of my students goes to visit relatives in Mexico City, they will have to go through a gate. They will have to look through the steel slats of this new wall and wonder why their people have been caged.
I’m just a high school English teacher. Nobody asked me if the wall should be built. More than likely, they didn’t ask you either. But as Americans — all of us: black, white, brown, and everything in between — we can still write our own story, a tale of freedom that rises above steel slats and border walls.
And there’s nothing more American than that.
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